Social Almanac 2020: Caritas takes year-end stock 

Switzerland has not been able to reduce its poverty

Despite several years of good economic activity and record low unemployment figures, Switzerland is still unable to reduce its poverty: for five years, the number of people affected by poverty has been increasing. Already from the age of 46, a person’s social welfare risk increases. In Caritas Switzerland’s recently published social almanac, established experts show how social assistance can be better anchored in the social security system.


Poverty in Switzerland has been rising constantly since 2014. Some 675 000 people were affected by poverty in Switzerland in 2017, including over 100 000 children. This corresponds to an increase of almost 10 percent within one year. This is all the more significant in view of the fact that in 2018 unemployment was down to 2.6 percent, the lowest level for ten years. In comparison with the unemployment rate, the rate of those persons with no earned income whatsoever also includes jobless people who are not registered with a Regional Employment Agency (RAV). This rate was stable at 4.7 percent. Despite this, in 2018 more than 35 000 persons were removed from the statistical data base. This reduction stabilized the number of such deletions at a high level, as is shown in the Social Almanac 2020 of Caritas Switzerland, in its annual report on social and economic development in Switzerland.

Not everyone benefits from the good economic situation

The fact that not all people benefit from the good economic situation is also shown by the increase in precarious employment relationships, which make it difficult to secure a living solely through one’s own efforts. Low-income people increasingly have to take on several jobs just in order to earn enough to make a livelihood. In addition, in recent years the number of people who work involuntarily with reduced job quotas has increased. In 2018, 360 000 people would have liked to work more in Switzerland but could not find a suitable job with a higher work quota. Women are affected three times more often than men. In the overall picture too, women also work three times more often on a part-time job quota basis than men. The consequences are disastrous: Overall, the old-age pension of women is 37 percent lower than that of men. Work as a carer is still taken insufficiently into consideration by the social security system. It is therefore hardly surprising that in old age, women have a risk of poverty twice as high as that of men.

High health insurance premiums are a heavy financial burden

Health insurance premiums put an extremely high burden on household budgets. This is reflected also in Credit Suisse's annual Worry Barometer. The topic of health and health insurance is up in second place. While health insurance premiums have more than doubled in the past 20 years, during the same period real wages have risen by only 14 percent. In most cantons, insured persons must spend an average of between 15 and 18 percent of their income on the premiums. The premium burden thus exceeds the figure of eight percent originally set by the Federal Council. Depending on the individual household model, the burden is even higher. This is a consequence of the fact that numerous cantons have cut the premium reductions in order to relieve the cantonal budget. In 17 cantons, between 2011 and 2017, the amounts paid out for proper premium reductions actually fell, and in Canton Lucerne were almost halved. Moreover: instead of using the federal funds from the premium reduction pot for households with low incomes and thus relieving the burden on the lower middle class, the cantons are increasingly using those very same funds to pay the premiums of those persons receiving social welfare instead of paying such premiums out of the canton's coffers.

The social welfare risk is shifting

The latest findings in the key figures report of the Cities Initiative on Social Assistance also give cause for concern: the risk of being dependent on social assistance increases sharply from the age of 46. In the fourteen cities surveyed, in recent years the risk for older people has increased the most. On average, a person now receives social assistance for almost four years, which is ten months more than ten years ago. Besides age, a person’s level of education is also decisive. Over half of the adult welfare recipients have achieved no educational qualifications.

In its Social Almanac 2020, by putting the focus on “Social Welfare for the Future”, Caritas Switzerland is addressing the question of how social welfare can be better anchored in the social security system. The need for reform is undisputed – if only because of the federalistic structure and the lack of binding commitments currently present; but also because social welfare is now far more than the often-cited last resort safety net: social welfare must nowadays cushion social risks that are not covered by social insurance. In the book, established experts offer their reflections on various reform proposals.

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